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February 27, 2003

What if?

by Chris Feeney

What if we could end terrorism by boycotting oil? I recently received an email that proposed such a theory. Many Americans are boycotting French wine because France has not taken up sides with the U.S. in its proposed war against Iraq. Now there are reports that many in Saudi Arabia are boycotting U.S. goods because of the impending conflict in Iraq. Well the internet message I received suggested we counter Saudi's economic slap on the wrist by fighting back with a sanction of our own on oil. I would not drink wine if I was lost in the desert without a canteen, but I sure use plenty of gasoline. So, unfortunately for most of us it's not that easy. Gasoline is a key component of our every day lives. However the letter I got via the internet offered a way out. We don't need to quit using gas - we should simply not buy gasoline from companies that import their oil from the Middle East. The email goes on to list five major gasoline producers that buy big amounts of oil from the Middle East and six larger chains that do not.

It's probably easier to just show you the picture instead of trying to explain it to you. Here's the email (edited for length but you still can get the picture):

Nothing is more frustrating than the feeling that every time I fill-up the tank, I am sending my money to people who are trying to kill me, my family, and my friends. I thought it might be interesting for you to know which oil companies are the best to buy gas from and which major companies import Middle Eastern oil (for the period 9/1/00 - 8/31/01): Shell - 205,742,000 barrels; Chevron/Texaco - 144,332,000 barrels; Exxon /Mobil - 130,082,000 barrels; Marathon/Speedway - 117,740,000 barrels; and Amoco - 62,231,000 barrels. If you do the math at $30/barrel, these imports amount to over $18 BILLION!

Here are some large companies that do not import Middle Eastern oil: Citgo - 0 barrels, Sunoco - 0 barrels, Conoco - .0 barrels, Sinclair - 0 barrels, BP/Phillips - 0 barrels, and Hess - .0 barrels.

All of this information is available from the Department of Energy and each is required to state where they get their oil and how much they are importing. They report on a monthly basis. Keep this list in your car; share it with

friends. Stop paying for terrorism.............

The letter goes on to encourage us each to pass the email on to 30 of our friends and family members.

I have to admit that initially I was sucked in by the idea. I mean if we take a look at the big picture, we spend billions of dollars to import oil. So in essence our dependence on foreign oil is helping finance this troublesome part of the world. But as a journalist I felt obligated to check on the numbers offered in this email before I passed them on to my readers. Boy was I glad.

First off, these numbers were not easily accessible on the Department of Energy website. Maybe they're there but this reporter couldn't find them. So I looked elsewhere. I found an interesting bit of information on a website regarding, of all things, urban legends. It seems plenty of people did pass this on to 30 (or more) friends as the author proposed.

Anyway, this site provided the numbers to contradict the chain letter. Using department of energy statistics, this site argued that several companies praised in the message for supposedly not importing Middle Eastern oil didn't really belong on the list. Only two - Sinclair and Sunoco - actually belong. All the other companies mentioned do, in fact, refine varying amounts of petroleum imported from the Gulf region.

So the list is flawed at its base. And the more I thought about it, the more I questioned the logic behind the whole process, at least on the home front. By only patronizing certain gas companies, I'm not hurting anyone but the local guy that owns the gas station. I'm quite sure that Texaco or Mobil won't miss my $25 every other week.

And the big picture is, if we all did boycott Middle East oil, the gasoline prices would go way up and our economy would have further issues. Isn't that what the terrorists really want - to attack our way of life. Besides somebody like France, Germany or Russia would step in and buy up all this oil anyway. They won't support our war plans so why would they back our boycott?


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